Romeo and Juliet jazzed up in the park

Romeo and Juliet Freewill Shakespeare GigCity EdmontonThose two lovestruck teenagers are at it again out there under the moon – which is this time hung over Hawrelak Park for a zesty, stripped-down production of Romeo and Juliet.

It’s part of the Freewill Shakespeare Festival until July 16.

We are told that this is the third most popular of Shakespeare’s plays and certainly you can almost see the audience’s lips moving in familiarity in answer to Juliet’s immortal question, “O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou, Romeo?”

Once again the young people are blissfully unaware that their headlong rush into love is destined to fuel the bitter inter-family rivalry that will result in torment and doom. (Am I giving anything away here?)

After a splendid scene-setting monologue from John Wright as Friar Lawrence, suffused with the melancholy knowledge of what is to come, director Marianne Copithorne gets right down to it in a breathless first act. This is not the Shakespeare of stagy action and plummy accents. This is the one that is immediately accessible to modern audiences with bawdy humour, rough and tumble swordplay (fight choreographer: Kevin Corey) and dramatic movie style music (composer: Matthew Skopyk) – all delivered with startling clarity of language and bold motivation.

The style is nicely set by two Elizabethan good ol’ boys, Mercutio (Jesse Gervais) and Benvolio (Sheldon Elter). They are full of hijinks and good spirits as they roast their twitterpated buddy Romeo (Hunter Cardinal), who is in love again – this time with a winsome young lady called Rosaline.  The camaraderie between the three is, as the Bard would say, palpable. At one point they discover a helium balloon and deliver their lines in high cartoon voices. It’s that kind of play.

Special note should be made of Louise Lambert’s portrayal of the nurse – loud, brash, and completely uncowed by the presence of her betters. The actress is hilarious delivering her comic lines and then braying with an infectious laugh that woke the squirrels in the trees.

Romeo and Juliet Freewill Shakespeare GigCity EdmontonRomeo and Benvolio decide to crash the party of Romeo’s sworn enemies, the Capulets. There is some kind of strange jerky dance (devised by Amber Borotsik) going on and director Copithorne suddenly and effectively throws it into slow motion as the two lovers see each other for the first time (while, presumably, somewhere in the cosmos great stars are colliding).

Juliet – appealingly played by Cayley Thomas – is not ready for this. She’s an awkward adolescent, all elbows and knees galumphing around in a virginal white dress (Shakespeare had her at about 13 years old). But their love is not to be denied and, for a short time, the world is candy coloured. The famous balcony scene is not a distant symphony of sonnet-like love ballads, but a steamy portrayal of teen lust. The act is carried off with skill (and considerable enthusiasm) by Cardinal and Thomas.

And then comes Act 2. Things are taken more seriously as the sun goes down over the Heritage Tent; a mist forms on the lake, a squirrel chatters in a tree and, once again an audience is gripped by a 400-year-old tale of two innocent young people caught up in the conflicts of their elders, their love and lives sacrificed on the rocky shores of hatred and malice.

Copithorne and her able cast grapple successfully with the passion without forcing the melodrama. The last few minutes are powerful indeed.

Romeo and Juliet runs on alternate evenings with Love’s Labour’s Lost, until July 16.

Photos by Alexa Tonn